Inhibitors of human mast cell tryptase (EC 220.127.116.11) have therapeutic potential for treating allergic or inflammatory disorders. We have investigated transition-state mimetics possessing a heterocycle-activated ketone group and identified in particular benzothiazole ketone (2S)-6 (RWJ-56423) as a potent, reversible, low-molecular-weight tryptase inhibitor with a Ki value of 10 nM. A single-crystal X-ray analysis of the sulfate salt of (2S)-6 confirmed the stereochemistry. Analogues 12 and 15-17 are also potent tryptase inhibitors. Although RWJ-56423 potently inhibits trypsin (Ki = 8.1 nM), it is selective vs other serine proteases, such as kallikrein, plasmin, and thrombin. We obtained an X-ray structure of (2S)-6 complexed with bovine trypsin (1.9-Å resolution), which depicts inter alia a hemiketal involving Ser-189, and hydrogen bonds with His-57 and Gln-192. Aerosol administration of 6 (2R,2S; RWJ-58643) to allergic sheep effectively antagonized antigen-induced asthmatic responses, with 70-75% blockade of the early response and complete ablation of the late response and airway hyperresponsiveness.